What is a “Third Level” Inner Child Relationship?

Steven Barnes
5 min readNov 1, 2023

The point (IMO) of the 90-Day Love Feast (focusing totally on the partner’s needs and desires for 90 days) is for the individual to take responsibility for his emotions and experience of life. The result is that the partner has the space to take a deep breath. When people feel safe, and loved, they automatically begin to expand their identity to include others. This often leads to the partner wanting to ALSO engage in their own “Love Feast” and the result is wonderful. Two people each putting the other first? That’s a “Third Level” relationship. Second level is “you do me, I do you.” First level is “I’m here for what I can get.”

Now…we’ve been working on the ANCIENT CHILD as a critical part of this process (it is possible that it is #3 overall, if #2, the “Morning Ritual”, is focused on 1% weekly improvement). What might this be? And this is flowing out of my fingers: I’ve not thought about it.

All right. Let’s go. What might comparable adult-child (internal) relationships be?

  1. I’m here for what I can get. Level one. Hmmm. Maybe the child is in control? This is a selfish, volatile, irresponsible personality, one with wretched “executive function”. What about the “adult” in control? All business, driving to exhaustion, brittle and cynical. Possibly insanely acquisitive (Citizen Kane’s “Rosebud” as childhood paradise lost, and all the kingdoms of the world cannot compensate.). A user, a burn-out, a shell of a human being…but might well LOOK successful to the naïve.
  2. I’ll do you, you do me. Well, this is better. You “reward” your child self for creativity, and they respond with joy and energy. Tell you the truth, I’m not at all sure even healthy people are usually above this level. Its actually not bad at all.
  3. The Love Feast. This would be a total integration. But I think we might be able to discuss the path to it. I can think of two creative artists, one a writer and the other a musician, who were wonderful examples of an ultra high-level integration, but it is possible, probable perhaps, that they were out of balance on the “child” side. But if we start with that notion, we can see something: their living space was filled with toys and joy that reflected their hearts. Both were VOLCANICALLY creative, tons of artistic and sexual energy.

But…in both cases they passed the critical period for reproduction: neither had children, one married late and the other only briefly. And based upon personal conversations and clues in their art, they KNEW that they had succeeded massively externally, but had failed themselves internally (or narrowly avoided such failure. Hard to say. One of the reasons I’m not using names is to avoid debate here. Not the point)

So…#2 is about DELIBERATELY giving to the “child” self. Playing. Re-visiting childhood dreams and seeking adult equivalences. Handling the “business” of life so that the child is safe (by the way, IMO the inability to engage in marketing and sales for one’s art can be understood as an imbalance here. The “child” considers sales to be prostitution, like selling kisses).

Fine tuning here would be connecting with your creativity and aliveness through art and play. But also creating the financial safety that allows the child to NEVER have to deal with money. It is genuinely sad to see artists and “spiritual” people reject the notion of earning money, setting goals for money, specifically respecting the adult world of commerce….and then complaining frequently about problems that money solves. I mean…WTF?

I made this mistake once, not properly balancing the adult and child aspects, and there came a day when I was hard-up for cash, and some problematic Hollywood types tempted me into pimping out my “little boy.” Some of you know that story, and how it took me an entire year to heal the damage.

Its worth it. The child plays. The adult plans, works, and handles the money. Often, the money is produced BY the child’s play, and then…wow.

Is that it? Is that level 3? Where the child feels safe and loved, and the adult is protective and productive, HANDLES THE MONEY, filters the adult relationships (sex, for instance. There is a level of sex that is pure play. But the adult self have to filter out the immature, damaged, and predators. The adult, being an adult, gets the benefit of aliveness, creativity and passion. The child gets safety and approval. Both get love. It is a loving home, then, a mother holding her daughter, a father playing with his son. Simple, deep, powerful. No complication.

THAT might be the “third level” of the adult-child relationship. The successful happy healthy artist or business person or parent.

We will talk about that more this Saturday on FIREDANCE!: The Next Level

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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.